Hart, on Tobacco

April 30, 2009

Jeffrey Hart is Professor Emeritus of English at Dartmouth College, and a cultural critic, essayist and columnist. He holds an A.B. and Ph.D. from Columbia University, both in English literature, and formerly served four years with U.S. Naval Intelligence. During his more active teaching tenure, professor Hart often made a point of nettling colleagues: while they protested the price of gas, he drove to school in a Cadillac limousine. Professor Hart is still a Senior Editor with National Review, and a founder and adviser to The Dartmouth Review.

Below is Professor Hart’s 1992 essay on tobacco.

Smoking is politically incorrect these days, but have you ever wandered into a good pipe shop?

These are male environments, of course, which surely makes them objectionable, but pipes are works of art. A pipe shop has its own ambience, yes, a male ambience.

These smoking instruments often are beautiful, selected for the grain of their wood or the gracefulness of their design.

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"A pipe shop has its own ambience, yes, a male ambience."

There are times when I like a slim little pipe, but other times when I like a massive blockbuster. I have a pipe that was smoked by a general on the Boer side in the war against England. It’s a huge thing. That general was only a bit over five feet tall, and the pipe must have rested on his chest as he smoked it. It has a metal lid, so that he could smoke it while the clouds were raining down upon him, along with the British bullets. The general died in old age in Ohio.

I also have a beautiful briar churchwarden pipe, about 18 inches long. I don’t know why this particular design is called a “churchwarden.” I enjoy that pipe, and indeed use it as a prop while lecturing to college classes. (Of course, the sign over my head says “No Smoking.”)

I have another favorite pipe, a Peterson model from Ireland, which my wife bought in a pipe shop in Harvard Square. She had a silversmith inscribe in silver my class numerals in the front of the bowl: 1951.

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"There are times when I like a slim little pipe, but other times when I like a massive blockbuster."

The tobacco I favor comes from that same pipe shop, and it’s a mixture called “Black Gold.” Years ago, I favored “Balkan Sobranie,” which is very good, and some of my former students still smoke it, but now I lean to “Black Gold.”

That pipe shop in Harvard Square has a wall covered with old photographs of Harvard football games, people wearing handlebar mustaches and so on, and the place smells like rich tobacco. It even stocks marvelous cigars, not now Havana cigars, but when we finally get rid of Castro we will have Havana cigars again.

A few years ago, a friend of mine tried to smuggle a load of Havana cigars into Miami, but they were discovered and confiscated by the Customs. Too bad. He asked the officers what they were going to do with these good cigars. Their answers: “Burn them. Very Slowly.”

There is only one very good pipe store left in midtown Manhattan, down from four or five 10 years ago. Yet it remains a fine pipe store, full of beautiful pipe objects. Some of them are antiques purchased at estate auctions. The atmosphere in the store is redolent of tobacco, and the manners are relaxed and masculine. The clerks and the customers discuss blends and mixtures of tobacco, what cigars are being imported, what new or old pipes are available. This store is sort of a club. A piece of civilization that is perhaps vanishing.

"There is only one very good pipe store left in midtown Manhattan, down from four or five 10 years ago."

"There is only one very good pipe store left in midtown Manhattan, down from four or five 10 years ago."

 Can anyone think of Sherlock Holmes without his pipe – not to mention his “quick Watson, the needle”? (Morphine?)

Presidents were often nominated in the famous “smoke filled room,” cigar smoke I suppose. There is good and bad cigar smoke. I can hardly wait for Castro to disappear.

Some of the very best pipe stores are in London. They have mahogany counters, glass cases, and even brass spittoons. I would not be surprised to hear that some of the pipes were designed by Rembrandt.

Yes, yes, yes, I know all about lung cancer.

But, more and more, it seems that if you want to avoid cancer of one sort or another you have to stop living.

Now that is something of a contradiction.

Pipes have now been banned at the regular meetings of college facilities. Mr. Chips and Sherlock Holmes would have been shocked, shocked. This is one among many reasons I myself do not attend faculty meetings anymore.

There is an ideological contradiction involved here. The American Indians, who are Politically Correct these days, introduced tobacco to the Europeans through Sir Walter Raleigh. Tobacco is Politically Incorrect. We’ll have to work that one out.

Are women behind all of this Puritanism? Maybe. The only woman I ever met who smoked a pipe was the wife of Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, a charming and witty lady. Some women do smoke cigars, diminutive and “feminine” ones, but not the big and glorious variety.

I have a sign in my office in the Dartmouth College English Department that reads: “Thank You For Holding Your Breath While I Smoke.”

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“Thank You For Holding Your Breath While I Smoke.”

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Michael Malloy: 1873 – 1933

April 30, 2009

In astonished, although decades belated, memory of Mike Malloy, an example of dedication to us all. 

Born in County Donegal, Ireland, Mike Malloy spent his life as a New York City vagrant and, randomly, a volunteer firefighter, though his prowess as either is overshadowed by his ability to avoid being murdered.

In January of 1933 Malloy was, as he was accustomed to being, a homeless drunk. Probably because of the apparent ease of the crime, five men (Tony Marino, Joe Murphy, Frank Pasqua, Hersey Green and Dan Kriesberg) took out three life insurance policies on Malloy, totalling almost $60,000 in today’s dollars, and quickly set about helping Malloy die.

The five gave Malloy unlimited credit at a speakeasy Marino owned, assuming the Irishman would quickly drink himself to death, and with good reason: Malloy drank for the majority of his waking day, every day, for over a solid month. When it became apparent liquor alone wasn’t working, Malloy was served antifreeze, and still he drank till he passed out every night, and was back every morning without fail.  He was then served, in succession, turpentine, horse-hoof oil and, finally, rat poison. Still Malloy hung on, and came around every morning, rain or shine. He subsequently drank glasses of ethanol, metal shavings, and carpet tacks.

Artist's rendering: Michael Malloy, circa 1933.

Artist's rendering: Michael Malloy, circa 1933.

Frustrated with Malloy’s inability to be killed, the five dragged the resolute vagrant off his bar stool one night, threw him into the snow, unbuttoned his shirt, and poured five gallons of water on his chest. When Malloy came around the next morning, they ran him over with Green’s taxi. The taxi hit-and-run put Malloy in the hospital for three weeks, after which time he was back at the bar, comfortably ensconced, until the five took him to Murphy’s room, put a hose in his mouth, ran it to a gas jet, turned the jet on, and finally managed to kill him.

Arrests and a trial followed, and the five men were all executed by electric chair at Sing Sing, save Green, who spent his life in prison.


Of Course(s)

April 30, 2009

This year’s Ivy League men’s golf title goes, for the second year straight, to Columbia University, despite the odds: the golfing Lions have no home course to practice on, making do instead with a simulator in a converted squash court. When feasible, the team rides a bus to a club outside New York City. Conversely, Ivy rival Cornell practices on a Robert Trent Jones course, while Yale’s was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald (the “father of American golf-course architecture”). Princeton practices on a private club near its campus, and Dartmouth (being Dartmouth) flat-out owns the idyllic Hanover Country Club.

Hanover Country Club, via Wikipedia.

Hanover Country Club, via Wikipedia.